Heritage: Jewish-American Entrepreneurs in the Early Carpet Industry

 
Julian Saul, son of Harry Saul.
Image Credit: www.gtalumni.org

May is Jewish-American Heritage Month and as the descendant of a Jewish immigrant, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me, as a new resident of Dalton, Georgia, the Carpet Capital of the World, to take a look back at some of the early Jewish-American carpet entrepreneurs.

Harry Saul

One of the more prominent Jewish-American carpet entrepreneurs was Harry Saul and his company Queen Carpet. Saul came to Dalton and opened a department store in 1939. Through this seemingly small venture he gained the notice and respect of many in the community.

“He was in the dry goods business, and he had the local Boy Scouts department,” said carpet industry pioneer R.E. “Bob” Shaw in an interview for the book Shaw Industries: A History. “If we couldn’t pay for merit badges, Harry would give them to us and tell us to bring a quarter later on.”

It was through this community-based vision that Saul’s business and reputation grew, before he bought a small chenille business in 1946 from Reverend C.T. Pratt. Saul quickly renamed the business Queen Chenille, because they felt their products were fit for a queen, and it specialized in tufted chenille bathrobes.

Not long after that, Queen moved to a more diverse production line that included toilet “tank sets,” replacement carpet for cars, and throw rugs. Queen transitioned into tufted carpet when Harry’s son Julian complained of allergies from the cotton lint at the rug plant. Queen Carpet Co. flourished, and eventually merged with Shaw Industries in late 1998. Julian Shaw served as Shaw Industries president until he retired in 2006.

Alan and Shirley Lorberbaum

 

Another story of Jewish-American entrepreneurs in the early years of carpet is that of Alan and Shirley Lorberbaum. The Lorberbaums moved to Dalton in 1948, for Alan to take a job at Lawtex, his family’s home textiles business. In 1957, they opened their own business, Aladdin Mills.

Despite the success that was to come for Aladdin Mills, the Lorberbaums initially had trouble getting it off the ground.

 

“At one point, I pawned my engagement ring to provide us with cash,” Shirley Lorberbaum said in a 1997 interview. “We secured a small business loan, and then, with a great deal of hard work, we were able to grow.”
 
Alan Lorberbaum
Image Credit: www.floorbiz.com

And grow they did.

Starting as a bath mat manufacturer in an abandoned roller skating rink, Aladdin grew to be the largest facility in the industry at 2.45 million-square-feet by 1968.

Shirley Lorberbaum was the first female president of the Dalton/Whitfield Chamber of Commerce. As a tireless community volunteer, she and her husband were generous supporters of issues related to education, children, and minorities.

Aladdin Mills continued to grow into the 1990s when a merger was arranged with Calhoun, Georgia-based Mohawk Industries Alan and Shirley’s son, Jeffrey Lorberbaum was named CEO of Mohawk Industries in 2001. A Bloomberg News report stated that the company’s shares have risen 77 percent under his leadership, and calls Mohawk the world’s largest maker of flooring products.

There are lots of interesting stories on the history of Dalton and the tufted carpet industry that you can find from books such as Shaw Industries: A History and Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry.

I did not grow up knowing I had a Jewish heritage, but when I found out, I was proud, and especially so during this special month of commemoration.

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